AMI Switzerland: The Re-appearance: Christian – Muslim Perspectives

The Re-Appearance from Christian’s and Muslim’s views was the title of the Al-Mahdi Institute’s first outreach event in Switzerland. It was held in Uitikon near Zürich on the 23rd of June 2013, the 13th of Shaban 1434, two days prior to the birth anniversary and in honour of the 12th Shiite Imam, Imam al-Mahdi, may Allah, glorified and exalted, hasten his reappearance. Imam Al- Mahdi is believed to rise as the saviour of Mankind towards the end of time when people are ready for his reappearance.

As the belief in a saviour is a concept found in many religions, often with very similar descriptions of that saviour, the idea was to hold an inter religious event to bring people of different faiths together under the common topic of the awaited saviour and also to provide Muslims following the Jaffary school of thought in Switzerland with an opportunity to come together, meet and get to know each other beyond their usual circles in Switzerland’s first language, German.

The event was planned for 200-300 adults with additional separate youth and children programmes. This seemed feasible and reasonable also after talking to some communities and looking at the Muslim population in Switzerland of about 5%, a total of around 400’000 out of eight million inhabitants. The reality turned out to be different. Despite the 9 known Shiite centres and organizations across Switzerland being directly contacted and invited via phone, e-mail, posters and flyers, some even personally visited, the response was much less than expected: 80 adults 12 youths and 12 children were registered. This should have filled the rooms that were then rented to the last place. In the end about 70 adults including youths showed up with about 10 children.

The event, held in the accommodation of a Christian community, started at 1.30 p.m.

and lasted until about 5.30 p.m. The programme began with noon and afternoon prayers followed by lectures for adults.

After a short welcome, Shaykh Arif, the Institutes director, known for his broad minded and inclusive way of thinking, began the speeches at about 2.15 pm with a presentation of the Institute, its philosophy and the outreach project followed by a speech about Imam al-Mahdi and spirituality and humanity in English with translation to German, which lasted for about an hour. He painted a picture that was very inclusive, humane and inviting and left the few Sunni and non Muslim listeners with a very positive and different impression of Islam than one usually gets. Bosnian Sunni Imam Sakib Halilovic, himself a very humane and down to earth scholar, remarked that both the Institute’s approach and the view of its director are not what one usually finds in Shia and Sunni books and thought.

After a break with drinks, snacks and sweets provided by a volunteer family and the Institute, there was then a dialogue with Imam Halilovic and Burhanettin Dag from the Islamic Centre in Hamburg and member of the Islamic central council of Germany about Imam Mahdi in the respective school of thought and how the belief in him can be a uniting factor. Burhan Dag came as a replacement due to a short notice cancellation of a German speaker. He brought several copies of a German books about Imam Mahdi and some of one with sayings by the Holy Prophet for the audience as gift. Burhan Dag, who was well prepared with two speeches, one for the youth, was very enthusiastic on his part congratulating the participants on the month of Shaban pointing out that it is a special time of the year and then mainly saying that Sunnis and Shias don’t have a problem with each other but its people who have, mentioning various examples, stressing brotherhood amongst the Muslim schools of thought time and again. Sakib Halilovic stated amongst others that Imam Mahdi is a “luxury issue” in Sunni circles, mainly discussed amongst intellectuals, as they are faced with many problems in their homelands, seeing tendencies that Shia and Sunni are heading towards more conflicts and agreeing that the belief in Imam Mahdi could be the uniting factor.

After another short break, Hussain Alnashid from London, who was also scheduled to hold a separate programme for the youth, held a speech in English about Imam Mahdi and the Prophet Jesus and their relationship. Hussain had several appearances on Ahlulbay TV about Imam Mahdi and Prophet Jesus in the past. Due to his non-scholarly background, Hussain’s speech came across very pleasant and natural. His main point was that, as at the time of the re appearance of Imam Mahdi, the majority of the worlds will be Christian, Prophet Jesus who is believed to reappear at that time as well, would be the Imam’s proof upon the Christians and Imam Mahdi would be Jesus’ proof upon the Muslims. Their movement would be one.

Ahlulbay TV showed interest in the event, which was recorded for the Institute as well as ABTV for them to produce a programme on the event. After the event there were also some interviews with some attendances made, them being reverts from either Christianity or Sunni Islam.

A hand full of people came form France to attend the event and a lady even came all the way from Kosovo.

All in all the, Institutes first event in Switzerland turned out well, the feedback was mainly positive., some people even expressed their hope for further events. The audience was mix of Sunni to Shia converts from the Balkan area, Turkish-Azerbaijani, Indian, Khoja and Arbab Shia Muslims, some Swiss Shia converts as well as two Sunni brothers and a Swiss-Dutch Christian couple, all mainly form the areas of greater Zürich, Switzerland’s biggest city, and greater Berne, the Swiss capital. It was nice to see, that people coming to attend the event represented such a variety of ethnical and cultural backgrounds and that some even came from abroad.

The event also gave a picture of the status quo of the Shiite communities in Switzerland. Activities are mainly carried out in known circles and respective languages and there is little cooperation. The centre in Geneva, where three communities share an accommodation, is excluded from this statement as a positive example. But unfortunately there was no response from there to the invitation as there wasn’t from other areas and centres either.